A recent study by pathologist Paulo Saldiva, professor at University of São Paulo School of Medicine and founder of ISS – Instituto Saúde e Sustentabilidade (Health and Sustainability Institute), a think-tank on health and sustainability issues, revealed that “the city of São Paulo is obese and suffers from chronic bronchitis”. He had recently used a powerful metaphor to illustrate the findings of another of his research studies on air pollution in São Paulo: “an inhabitant of the city smokes one cigarette every two hours spent stuck in traffic jams.”
Thanks to efforts such as Doctor Saldiva’s to popularise scientific research, awareness about the effects of air pollution and sedentarism for the health of São Paulo citizens has been mounting, and so has the understanding that air pollution and lifestyle – including the way you move around the city – are closely linked. An enthusiastic cyclist himself, Saldiva is a great supporter of active mobility as means of staying healthy.
Bike Anjo (Bike Angels), a network of voluntary cyclists who help other people to use their bikes as a means of transport – from teaching how to ride a bicycle to identifying safe cycling routes for São Paulo inhabitants – is at the forefront of the active mobility movement in São Paulo, where only 1% of the population use bicycles in their day to day travels, compared to 22% of car users. Not surprisingly, 80% of air pollutant particles in São Paulo come from vehicular sources and 73% from cars alone.
In a wealthy city with high social inequality rates like São Paulo, where cars are still perceived as a status symbol, changing the transport culture is far from being an easy task. With GCCA’s support, Bike Anjo is running their Bike to Work Campaign this year with a strong focus on the health benefits of active mobility. Improvements are unequivocal for the health and wellbeing of individuals who cycle to work as well as for public health (as a consequence of air pollution reduction, through the potential fall in the numbers of cars in the city streets). Moreover, active mobility contributes to a healthier and safer climate, as a consequence of decreased carbon emissions, which are at the origin of global warming.
JP Amaral, Bike Anjo founder, estimates that
“in Brazil the potential benefits of encouraging cycling as a means of transport is great, as cities are increasingly suffering with traffic congestion and pollution, while we already have political instruments in place such as a national policy for urban mobility to support the vision of cities we want”.
Bike to Work Campaign Activities in 2018
Apart from the usual awareness raising activities promoted on the Bike to Work Day by Bike Anjo throughout the country since 2013, this year the campaign has a new website, where both individuals and enterprises / organisations are separately targeted and encouraged to consider cycling as their preferred means of travelling to work and a prize (Prêmio SP De Bike ao Trabalho), which is to be awarded for enterprises in São Paulo that embrace the cause. A high profile event will he held on 11 May (Bike to Work Day) to encourage debates around cross-sectoral approaches for the mainstreaming of cycling within health and transport policies. Three enterprises operating in São Paulo will be awarded the prize at a ceremony during the event, which Bike Anjo hopes will leverage even greater corporate engagement. A number of public policies, including the National Plan for Urban Mobility and its implications at the city level, will be discussed.
In the run up to the event day, there has been intense social media warm-up activity. Comments and stories posted by people who have recently decided to cycle to work highlighting clear health and wellbeing improvements are already proving to influence others to change their transport habits! The Bike to Work campaign is also getting some media attention with emphasis on the first edition of the prize for enterprises, run in collaboration with the Ethos Institute. Keep an eye out for the actual Bike to Work Day on 11 May 2018!
Cycling plays a major role in personal mobility around the world, but it could play a much bigger role. Given the convenience, health benefits, and affordability of bicycles, they could provide a far greater proportion of urban passenger transportation, helping reduce energy use and CO2 emissions worldwide.